Scientists in Brazil are considering strike action over the case of a primatologist jailed for biopiracy offences, which they say is likely to lead to the treatment of all researchers in the tropics as potential criminals.
Marc van Roosmalen — who has lived and worked in the Amazon for over 20 years — was jailed for 15 years and 9 months in June for moving and keeping monkeys without permits, auctioning the names of new primate species, and selling materials donated by his former employer.
A petition signed in July by 287 researchers from 31 countries states that van Roosmalen's sentencing was "out of proportion with his alleged crimes" and "indicative of governmental restrictions on scientists".
The Brazilian authorities say they cannot deal lightly with violations, but researchers are worried van Roosmalen's case will set a precedent and that, in trying to combat biopiracy, the authorities are stifling the country's scientific potential.
The petitioners say they are "ready to propose more forceful political acts" against tougher biopiracy rules and regulations allowing the Brazilian military to veto collaborative projects with foreign scientists.
Scientists working in tropical areas outside Brazil say they too are experiencing difficulties owing to crackdowns on potential biopiracy.